OK, stop.

I was in an improv class at iO. I was asked to stand up and deliver a monologue. Someone shouted a topic, and I talked about hockey and my experience. “I played hockey in college, and before you think that I’m special, it was division three—” Before I could finish, Todd, my teacher, told me to stop.

Todd and I developed that comfortable teacher-student relationship where he would use me as a prop: “…Like…” [looks around the room for a victim] “Bart. How would that make you feel?” “So who does Bart look like? Right, Michael Fassbender, Edward Norton, yep the Fawn from Narnia—I see it.” Or he’d make an example of me.

“Okay, stop. I’ve noticed this a lot—you guys all do this. You downplay yourselves so much. You played hockey in college?! I don’t care what level, that’s f’kin’ incredible! I know I wasn’t playing hockey in college, that’s crazy, it takes time and dedication—don’t downplay it!”

He was right: a lot of us are bad at saying good things about ourselves, and we’re really good at saying bad things.

On one-upmanship: this is something that happens when at least two guys and at least one cute girl are in the same general area. The two guys will engage in one-upsmanship by telling a story, or performing an act that makes one of the guys look better than the other, thereby winning the heart of the girl. It’s so simple. Example: If Eric is talking about his trip to Maine, Bill talks about how that’s nothing, you should hear about my trip to Spain. When Spain is mentioned, Eric retreats in shame, and Bill marries Rachel. I will give this full talk at your local middle school. It’s inspirational. Reasonable rates.

On one-downsmanship: this is the new thing and it’s the exact opposite.

Bill tells Rachel that he once dropped a hammer on his toe and wow what a dummy he was for doing that!

And then Eric says he’s such and idiot that he shot himself with a staple gun! Womp womp!

And then Bill tells Rachel that he—and get this—was so dumb that he broke his ankle jumping off a roof with ski boots on! HA!

And then! Then Eric tells Rachel that he’s been in a dark place ever since trying to fish crack cocaine out of the dishwasher disposal when he accidentally turned it on and lost a finger, while simultaneously passing out and waking up, seeing blood, throwing up, and passing out again!

Bill: 0 Eric: 1

Here’s a sketch that I’m working on called Self Deprecation Man.

Self Deprecation Man and Average Man are golfing. Average Man hits a good shot.

Average Man: Probably the only good shot I’ll hit all day! Ha.

Self Deprecation Man: Just wait till you see me take a swing! I can barely hold the club! I’m not just bad, I’m horrible! Forget about golf, I have nothing to offer in life! I’m worthless! I don’t even know why I’m alive!

Self Deprecation Man and Average Man are at a bar.

Average Man: I’m struggling with talking to women tonig—

Self Deprecation Man: —You’re struggling? I haven’t talked to a woman since 1998! I’m not just bad at talking to women, I’m bad at everything! Ha! I’m the worst PERSON I KNOW!

Self Deprecation Man and Average Man are preparing to give a speech.

Average Man: I’m a little nervous about this. I feel like people won’t like me.

Self Deprecation Man: HA! See, I just know no one will like me, so it makes everything easy! Because I’m literally trash! Literally. I belong in a dump.

End scene

On difficult people: The making-fun-of-myself story is my favorite story. We’re all on the same team! We’re all able to laugh at something foolish I did, without me saying that my worth as a person is non-existent. It brings people together. When you go overboard with self deprecation, though, it’s just as bad as bragging, because it’s completely about you, and there’s no larger theme. There’s no feeling that we’re on the same team. It’s me me me for the sake of me.

“I suck at math.” “I’m bad at writing.” “Nobody likes me.” “People don’t get my jokes.” Stop it.

On jokes: if you find yourself saying “People don’t get my jokes” a lot, it’s not their fault. It’s your fault.

On saying nice things: My coworker Jess has a fish that I swear is dead, but it keeps clinging to the semblance of whatever sad bowl-existence it calls life. It floats on its side, half in the water, half on the surface, just begging for death. “Maybe…if I get half out of the water…I can suffocate myself….” Everytime I see it, I ask, “Jess, is that fish still alive?” She was cleaning out the fish’s bowl one day and I said, “I’m going to start rooting for this thing. He’s gonna make it.”

Studies have been done on the effects of positive thinking. (I don’t know why I put a link there, because no one doubts that positive thinking is good for you. No one is arguing for more negativity. Except for people on Twitter. SAD!) What if, though! You started rooting for people? Started believing in struggling humans—that they can and will do better, physically, mentally, emotionally…all the allies. It’s healthy and it’s contagious. It might even inspire action.

I think I waited too long to cheer for the fish because he died. SAD! But! There’s still hope for people. I was on a date and the girl said, “I’m actually really good at giving presentations.” And the difference was that she wasn’t bragging—she was being honest about a skill that she has. Man that was refreshing. I love when people tell you they’re good at something. Own it. You’re good at it. Don’t downplay it. Practice it. Cultivate it. Keep doing it.

Bart Tocci
Bart Tocci ('11) lives in Boston where he write essays, performs at open mics, and threatens to start taco restaurants. He’s been told that he looks like the kind of guy who stands up for what’s right. And who goes to the store before the party. Read more here: barttocci.wordpress.com

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